PORTLAND – Maine’s seafood harvest topped half a billion dollars for the first time as fishermen had the second-largest haul by weight since 1950, according to preliminary 2012 statistics released by the Department of Marine Resources.
For the year, fishermen harvested 318 million pounds of fish, shellfish and other marine species valued at $527.7 million.
The value of the harvest shatters the previous one-year best of $456.8 million in 2010, according to DMR statistics. The 318 million-pound haul is the largest on record since 1950, when the catch topped 356 million pounds.
Some fishermen fared particularly well in 2012, most notably those who catch baby eels, known as elvers. With prices reaching $2,000 a pound or more, harvesters got $38.7 million for their catch. That was a fivefold increase over a year earlier, when the catch was worth less than $8 million.
But Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher cautioned that the high overall value of last year’s harvest doesn’t mean fishermen are getting rich. Lobster harvesters suffered under the lowest prices since 1994, while all fishermen contended with high prices for fuel, bait and supplies, he said.
“In some areas, where they can’t make up for the low prices in volume, they’re barely making it,” Keliher said.
Lobster was Maine’s top fishery for the year by far, with a record 127 million-pound catch valued at a record $341 million. Lobster accounted for 65 percent of the value of the total catch for the year.
Elvers came in at No. 2, while soft-shell clams were the third-most-valuable fishery, at $15.6 million. Herring, with a value of nearly $15 million, was the No. 4 fishery, while groundfish — cod, haddock and other bottom-dwelling fish — rounded out the top 5.
Other valuable species included sea urchins at $5 million, bloodworms at $4.9 million, scallops at $3.2 million and tuna at $2.2 million.
Maine’s seafood catch in 2011, the latest year for which federal nationwide statistics are available, was the No. 3 fishing state in terms of value of seafood caught, behind Alaska and Massachusetts. It accounted for roughly 8 percent of the total value of the U.S. seafood harvest.